Tag Archives: Colombia

Canaveral and Capes

We were joined by a young Spanish woman who was also on her way to the beach.  Even though there was only one path, we didn’t trust ourselves not to get lost.  Our companion—maybe 21 years old—was traveling around Latin America by herself.

“Don’t your parents worry about you?” I asked.

“Of course they do, but they would worry about me if I was in Valencia.  I just don’t tell them where I am, exactly.”

The path split into four or five trails, some leading into the jungle, some splitting around gigantic banyan trees and reconnecting on the other side, others heading in what we presumed was the direction of the ocean.  I tried taking photos of the banyan trees but it was impossible to capture their scale.  This is a section of path that wound through a coconut grove.

“The first beach is Canaveral,” said our fellow traveler.

“We lived near Cape Canaveral, Florida, in Coconut Beach, when my dad worked for NASA,” I told Lynn.  “In fact when I was three I dug into a hill of fire ants.  My mom heard me screaming.  She had a cleaning lady back then, who was a native and knew what to do, so they filled the bathtub with water, stripped my clothes off, and shoved me in.  They even had to hold my head under water to get the ants out of my ears and nostrils.”

“That sounds terrifying!” Lynn exclaimed.  “I’d take the ants over having my head shoved under water any day!”

We passed a panaderia, or bakery, in the middle of the jungle.  It was really just a cinder-block building with some of those ubiquitous white plastic chairs set outside.  I wondered if the owners were Tayrona Indians.  They were shorter than me, which is short.  Their long black hair was plaited, and they wore what looked like white night gowns.

“Here is where I leave you,” said our friend, “I will buy some sweet bread here for the beach.”

We walked on, passed a hut selling cold beer and snacks, and in five minutes were at the beach.  I had heard that Tayrona’s beaches are the most beautiful on earth.  I haven’t been to enough beaches to judge that, but from our first glimpse Canaveral was wildly beautiful.

I’m not normally a beach goer; I do things.  I go, go, go when I’m away.  Vacation, for me, is not a break from physical activity but from routine.

Today I would try to do nothing.  I knew Lynn was just going along because it was the thing to do.  She wasn’t a sit-on-the-beach person either.

We were both dripping with sweat, and as soon as we cleared the forest there was a breeze and we both let out an “Aaaahhhh.”  Then, “Oooohhhh,” when we caught sight of the actual beach.

Lynn was wearing her usual long black pants, a black tee-shirt, and black sandals.  Sometimes if she’s in a wild mood she wears a red tee-shirt.

We found a patch of sand and laid down a large towel from our hut.

Lynn sat down gingerly. “We used to go to the beach as a family,” she said.  “Mum made these portable changing frocks, like a round table cloth with an elasticized hole in the middle that fit over our heads.  So there we’d be, in full public view, changing out of our clothes into our bathing suits under this contraption.”

“How did you pull your tee-shirt over your head?”

Lynn thought a moment.  “I don’t know!  Maybe mum always dressed us strategically, with button-up shirts.”

“There weren’t any ‘public conveniences’ in those days?”

“No, just sand and more sand, and wind.  Sand in our sandwiches.  Sand in our shoes, sand in our hair ….”  She was wiping sand off the towel as she spoke.  She clearly did not like sand.

I walked up and down the beach, barefoot in the surf, it was heavenly.

The towel was empty when I came back.  I sat for a few minutes, feeling the sunscreen dripping off with my sweat, then went to join Lynn where I knew she would be—in the shade of the snack hut having a beer.

Ant in My Pant

“I’m surprised I’m not in agony,” Lynn remarked the next morning as we walked to the dining hut for breakfast.

“I know,” I replied, “I thought I’d be … be… aggghhh!” I screamed as a hot burning pain pierced my right thigh and I turned to run back to our hut.

“Whatever is the matter?” Lynn called after me.

Ants!  Ants in my pants!”  I had left my suitcase on the floor, and fire ants must have crawled in during the night.  I tore of my pants, hopping up and down on one leg then the other.  Turns out it was only one ant, but a very big one.  Everything here was supersized.  I shook my pants out the window to send it flying back to where it belonged.  The burning lasted a few more minutes as I hobbled to the dining hall.

“It was an ant in my pant, to be technically accurate,” I reported to Lynn.

“Sounds like some of the fish stories Richard tells,” Lynn needled m.  “By the time you get back to St. Paul the ant will be the size of a cat.”

Today was beach day.  That’s why people come to Tayrona—for the beaches.  The jungle itself was rather dry and dusty.  The trees, which from what I observed were mainly coconuts and mangoes, were spaced widely. It wasn’t lush and thick like jungles in Guatemala, Costa Rica, or Belize.  Maybe it was the time of year.  Maybe it lushes out during the rainy season.

As soon as we approached the dining hut, our waitress from the night before escorted us to a table.

“Seems like we’re destined to always order off the menu,” Lynn said.

“I know.  They’ve got us pegged as white-linen-table-clothe people.”

“That’s fine with me,” Lynn replied.  We’d been given the bill for our free meal the night before, just for our records.  They had given us two entrees each, then main courses, dessert, a bottle of wine, two bottles of sparkling water, and coffee.  It had amounted to about $40 per person including tip, the most expensive meal we would have in Colombia.

A 30-something couple sat at a picnic bench outside the dining hut with their three young daughters.  They were all eating granola bars.  We had seen them emerging from a tent on our way in.

“I give them a lot of credit for doing this,” I said.  “I hope the kids appreciate it.  They look to be about nine, six, three … I wonder if the younger ones will even remember it.”

“Are they doing this for themselves or for the children?” Lynn wondered.

“For the whole family, maybe.  But they look miserable.”

“More like serious, I’d say,” Lynn said.

“Yeah, you’re right.  They look German or Scandinavian.  They always look so serious.”

We made our way in the general direction someone had pointed when we asked about beaches.  Soon we arrived at a stream, over which someone had thrown some wobbly tree branches.

“Oh really!” Lynn exclaimed.  “This is just not on!  How can they expect to attract tourists to this place if they expect us to cross a river every 10 minutes!”

I would have crossed that thing in five seconds had I been on my own.  It was the kind of stream I’ve crossed a hundred times in Minnesota.

“I am not doing this.  I will not!” stated the London girl who had never been on a bicycle, didn’t know how to swim, and had just experienced her first (and last) horseback ride.

Other hikers passed us, looked at Lynn curiously, and crossed the stream with no drama.

“Here,” I offered as I stepped into the stream.  “You walk over the logs and hold onto my hand to keep steady.”

“But you’ll get wet!” Lynn protested.

“We’re going to a beach.  It’s no deeper than my ankles.”  I hoped there weren’t any schistosomiasis larvae in the water.

“You’re a good friend,” Lynn said as we walked together over the raging river (not).

And there, on the other side, was a giant blue butterfly (not my photo, below).

“This makes it all worth it,” Lynn murmured as we watched it flutter.

Yes, There is Such a Thing as a Free Meal

“That’s awfully nice of them,” Lynn remarked as we were seated in the thatch-roof dining area for our free dinner, courtesy of Responsible Travel.

“The missing driver pales in comparison to that horseback ride.  I will have a word with them about that.  If they are promoting this trip to people like us they should warn that Tayrona is really still a backpacker destination.”

“Yeah, I’ll give them feedback on that too.  There’s no mention of it being an intense physical experience.”  I didn’t fess up that I thought it had been fun—the highlight of the trip so far.

“If you had a bad back you’d be screwed.  You’d have to go back into town and hope you could find a motel room.  I wonder if anyone from Responsible Travel has ever actually been here?”

The waitress brought menus and a bottle of wine.

“It’s a lovely place and I’m glad we’re here,” continued Lynn.  “They didn’t need to give us a free meal and I hope they don’t do it again when I give them feedback on the horses.”

“I know.  I always hope when I give feedback that they use it to tweak the tour for people who do it next.  But I suppose some people are hoping for freebies, in the age of Trip Advisor.”

There are always unexpected turns of event on any trip.  With time, and from the comfort of home, sometimes they become the best memories.

“I’ll just have to have ceviche again,” I said to the waitress.

“And I’ll have the catch of the day,” Lynn ordered.

Nearby, backpackers shuffled through a buffet line where food was slopped onto their plates—it looked like beans and rice—while others sat hunched over picnic benches outside eating granola bars.

“I like having money,” I observed as I smoothed my hands over the white linen tablecloth.  “I’m not rich by American standards, but I pinch myself when I think of where I came from and that I am sitting here in Colombia eating such a good meal and staying in the nicest accommodation.”

“And we’d be eating in here even if it wasn’t free,” Lynn commented.  “I don’t do buffets.”

“Granola bars are nice once in a while when there’s no other choice, but to eat them for a gap year?  Yuck.”

“I did it when I was 17,” Lynn said.  “We traveled all around Italy by train and hitchhiking and slept in stations … and on hillsides.”

“With horrid little men!” I laughed.

“Yep, I’ve paid my dues too.  I once stayed in a friend of a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn. It didn’t have hot water, and when my friend’s friend—I never saw her—complained, the landlord disconnected the toilet and put it in the middle of the kitchen.  I don’t know how long it had been there.  I had to run down four flights of stairs and use the bathroom in the bar at the street level.

“But it was free!  I lived off saltine crackers the whole week and had a blast.”

Our luxury hut had a bedroom and bath on the first level, plus a porch with chairs and a hammock.

The beds were hard as concrete so, like Goldilocks, I checked out the ones upstairs.  I suppose firm mattresses are easier to move—especially on horseback.

There was a single mattress off to the side that was probably meant for a spare kid.  It was the softest bed in the place, so I set up there.

The bathroom had some amusing features.  Well, we Americans are always amused and slightly horrified by bidets.  It doesn’t make sense, if I’m being logical.  But this one was set up so it would drip water on the TP roll.

Then there were these bad translations.

Yes—Plugs of the World, Unite!

How hard is it, really, to find a competent translator?  This was a national park, not a mom and pop outfit.  But maybe I’m being too critical.

It seemed like a shame, but we closed the shutters at dusk as we had been instructed, “to keep insects out.”  We would learn that this was an illusion.

Hangin’ in Tayrona

The other night I was watching Antiques Road show.  A guest was proudly displaying an earthen pot with four animals crouched around its rim.

“This is a classic example of what you think of when you think of Tayrona pottery,” said the expert.

There’s Tayrona pottery? I spent two nights in Tayrona National Park and didn’t know what  the “Tayrona” referred to.

“But the opening is only 4 inches wide, and when I knock on it … here … there’s a hollow sound instead of a solid sound.  I’m afraid it’s not genuine,” intoned the expert.

The owner looked crestfallen.

“It’s still a charming piece.  May I ask how much you paid for it?”

“I bought it in a gallery in Seattle for $6,000,” said the owner sheepishly.  “It came with a certificate of authenticity.”

“Counterfeiters will often spend as much time making the certificate of authenticity look believable as they do on the object itself.  As I said, it’s still a very nice piece of pottery, and it might bring $200 retail if you were to sell it.”

Long pause.

“If it was a genuine pre-Colombian bowl, it could bring up to $23,000 at auction.”

Here’s a bit of what my personal librarian, Wikipedia, has to say about the Tayrona—or Tairona—people.

“Ethnohistorical data shows that initial contact with the Spanish was tolerated by the Tairona but by the 1600 CE confrontations built and a small part of the population moved to higher stretches of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This allowed them to evade the worst of the Spanish colonial system during the 17th and 18th centuries. The indigenous Kogi, Wiwa, Arhuacos (Ijka, Ifca) and Kankuamo people who live in the area today are believed to be direct descendants of the Tairona.”

So they were still around.  I had noticed on the map handed to us at reception that there were villages in the park which were off-limits to tourists.  I liked that.

It’s a beautiful map.  Unfortunately, the type was microscopic so it was only marginally helpful.

The compound in which we were staying was called Cabanas Arrecifes.  On the way to our hut we walked past an area with permanent tents for rent.

Farther on, there was a big hut with hammocks, also for rent.

The tenting and hammock options were as basic as they look. After all, it’s a national park.  I stepped inside the hut because I’m nosy.  Lockers were the one amenity.

If I slept in one of these, I’d be unable to stand erect for days.  As it was, I worried how I would feel the next day.  As I’ve written, I have scoliosis, for which I got to wear one of these four years (this is not me; I’m grateful none of the photos of me they took for “research” made it online).

One of the activities I was admonished not to do was horseback riding, due to the jostling.  Not that my family belonged to the horse-riding set; I did it once pre-brace at Campfire Camp, where I went on a scholarship.

There were communal bathrooms with showers for the tenters and hammockers, but you would definitely want to take a flashlight and wear shoes in the middle of the night to avoid stepping on one of these.

That goes for all levels of accommodation; this was in our bathroom in the cabin.

I’ve tried to find out how much it cost to book a hammock vs. a tent vs. a cabin, and all that comes up is .com sites that want to book the cabin for $280 a night.  Responsible Travel must have an agreement because we couldn’t have paid anything close to that.  Two nights at that rate would have been over a third of our price of our entire 10-day trip.

There was no Internet in the park, so no way to let Responsible Travel know we’d arrived safely.  But they were way ahead of us.

“You have a free dinner tonight,” our young friend with braces informed us.  “Courtesy of Responsible Travel because of your troubles this morning with your driver.”

Driver?  This morning?  The morning seemed like two days ago.

See How I Resisted a Horse Pun?

I hadn’t been on a horse since I was eight years old, at Campfire Camp, where we had probably received two hours of lessons before we even mounted.

The walk into Tayrona National Park had been billed as one hour by foot.  How long it would take on horses was anyone’s guess, but it would have been impossible to bring our suitcases if we had walked.

As I lurched up and down and back and forth on my horse, I tried to recall those horse riding lessons as Lynn screamed behind me.  Not to get too graphic, but I had to firmly lay my left arm across my bosom to prevent giving myself two black eyes as the horse pitched up and down. God help any woman with double DDs.

“Let me down this moment!  Stop hitting the horse, you awful man!” Lynn kept repeating.

Hie, hie!” was his response, as he urged one horse, then another, onward.  I’m sure he was as eager as we were for this to be over.

I was a terrible friend.  I started to laugh.  I tried to do it silently, but thought it a good idea to yell back to Lynn, “This is the craziest ride I’ve ever been on!” so she would think I was laughing at the situation, not her.  I haven’t laughed that hard since Lynn ran over the boulder in Cornwall.

“Stop right now—I demand you stop this horse right now!” Lynn shouted.

I knew she was terrified.  “Try to stay relaxed,” I yelled over my shoulder as my horse suddenly jerked over to one side going over a hill of bowling ball sized rocks. “Don’t tense up!” I had read somewhere, maybe in Black Beauty when I was 10 years old, that horses can sense you are nervous and will take advantage of it by behaving badly.  It was also advice I’d received in similar situations like a Jeep ride on a potholed road in Jamaica and a boat ride on the squalling sea in Italy—don’t tense up, it’ll make everything worse.

While all this was going on, I kept seeing this scenario: One of my horse’s shoes would slip on a rock, his leg would fly out from under him and break, and I would hurtle onto a boulder or off a cliff.  Then the guide would have to shoot the horse in front of us and I would have to crawl on my elbows the rest of the way with two broken legs.

Several days later, I found a horseshoe on another path.  Ignoring the airline rules about not transporting livestock items, I brought it home.  It’s pretty much as worn and slippery as I assumed they all were.

As I was imagining my future on permanent disability benefits, I also knew my horse had done this hundreds of times.  He was not thrilled about it, because the horrid man had to keep urging him on, but it wasn’t his first time at the rodeo.  Ha ha.

“There’s a bridge!” I cried out to Lynn.  “Bridge” is a very generous description.  The riverlet was only about 15 feet wide but too deep to wade.  Someone had laid rough-hewn planks across it.

Nooo!  I am never going across that … that!” Lynn inarticulated, and instinctively pulled up the reins to stop her horse and somehow got down.  “I am not going across that river.  I am not ….”

Lynn is not a fan of water.  I heard her bargaining with the guide, who had slapped my horse so hard that it galloped headlong across the “bridge,” and on into the jungle.

I don’t know what transpired behind me, but Lynn arrived at the lodgings shortly after me.  We each tipped the guide something and he skedaddled.

Did I mention it was 90F/32C, and 90% humidity?  We were covered in sweat and dust.  Lynn probably did stink at this point but I could no longer smell because my nose was clogged with dust.

“Welcome to Tayrona!” A young man with braces came to greet us.  There should be something called “The Braces Index” to measure countries’ economic development.

Soon we were in our luxury hut, post showers, enjoying cold beers.

No Experience Needed

I went back and forth with the driver in Spanglish, he explained the situation to his friend in the passenger seat in Spanish, and I tried to translate it to Lynn.  Meanwhile I was also, mentally, pulling essential items out of my suitcase and stuffing them into a plastic bag to take with me into the park for the weekend.

“You cannot take your luggage into the park,” he repeated for the umpteenth time.

Finally, he phoned someone related to some tour company connected to Responsible Travel.  He explained the situation to her, driving with his other hand, then turned and handed me the phone.

The English of the woman I spoke with was about as good as my Spanish. I didn’t say it in exactly these words, but I made the point that we didn’t want to leave our luggage with someone we’d met 10 minutes ago, especially after the disappearing act of the driver in Medellin.

Did I sound like Donald Trump, accusing Latin Americans of being criminals?  I hope not. It seemed like a reasonable expectation, to go with what was stated in the itinerary.

“Our bags aren’t even that big,” I said, and they weren’t.  Lynn travels everywhere with a carry on, and magically, never smells bad.  My bag was a bit larger.

Whoever I was talking to on the phone had never been to the park.  Lynn and I had never been.  Our driver said he’d never been inside, only to the entrance.  All of us were flying blind.

The driver dropped his friend off in Calabazo, the last town before we reached the park.  Then we drove on to the park entrance, where security guards stood watch over a closed gate.  The driver turned and asked for our entrance voucher.  Thankfully, for once I had read all the fine print when we’d paid for this trip and I had printed out the voucher.

At the park office, we were greeted by an extremely cheery young guy with braces.  “Welcome! I am so happy to practice my English with you!  I love the United States and I want to go there—to New York City!”

Oh dear.  I have mixed feelings when people in other countries have an idealized notion of the US.  I’m so cynical and disillusioned right now, so I guess it’s good to be reminded that other people think wonderful things about us.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, I asked about the luggage.

“No problem!” ruled the young man.  I thought he and the driver would stand there and debate it for 20 minutes but no, the driver vanished, and our host waved over another guy leading three horses, who quickly strapped our luggage onto one of them.  Somehow I had the presence of mind to throw my purse into my suitcase.

I knew Lynn was sweating bullets.  “I’ve never been on a horse before,” she pleaded.  The guide had already helped me up onto a horse, then slapped its flanks and the flanks of the horse with the suitcases, and off we plunged into the jungle.

“I’ll need some lessons,” I could hear Lynn behind me, then she let out a shriek as he slapped her horse and it began to run.

The guide didn’t know any English and he must have been paid by the ride, not by the hour, so he pulled out his whip and started flogging the horses on.  He wasn’t so much a horse whisperer as a horse whipper.

The trail quickly turned into a boulder-strewn nightmare.  Since I had packed my camera away, I have no photos from this episode but they would be blurs anyway.  The path below is a tame version of what we did.  Wherever we were was, literally, just piles of football-size rocks strewn along hills and valleys.

I could hear Lynn behind me, screaming. “Stop!  You horrid little man!” in a crisp English accent.  I may have imagined the “horrid” part but her accent had suddenly become like the Queen’s, not her usual casual London.

I wasn’t sure if she was furious about the horse being whipped, or terrified about being pitched headlong onto a boulder—both valid concerns.

Vans, Planes, Trucks, and Horses

After our stressed-out rush to get to the airport, we found a line hundreds of passengers deep waiting to check in.  Many had multiple oversized suitcases.

“Maybe the line will move fast,” said Lynn.  She’s such an optimist.  After 15 minutes it hadn’t moved at all.

More than one woman in stiletto heels, sprayed-on makeup, acrylic nails, and wearing 10 pounds of gold jewelry marched up to the desk and demanded to be taken to the head of the line.  They tried lines like, “Do you know who I am?!” and “I have very important business in Bogota!”  The Avianca agent said tiredly, “I’m so sorry madam; you must wait in the line like everyone else.”

Another Avianca agent came along, asking if anyone was there for the 10:30am flight to Bogota.  This is one of those times when knowing some Spanish is really helpful.  I raised my hand, and Lynn and I were led away to the front of the line.  Heh, heh, heh. Or jeh, jeh, jeh as it would be in Español.

We had two hours to kill in Bogota airport, so naturally we reverted to checking on what our friends and family were up to back home via social media.  When traveling in an exotic place, it’s important to keep up with the new Tater Tot hot dish recipe your aunt has tried, the political views of a friend of a friend you talked to for one hour five years ago, and the antics of your ex-coworker’s cat.

I often find the airport network choices amusing. “No me pidas la clave,” means “Don’t ask me for the key.”  Someone is obviously tired of strangers asking, “How do you get on line here?”

In the four Colombian airports we visited, the wifi networks were straightforward.  Maybe this is, ironically, due to fewer terrorism regulations than in the US and Europe, where—at least the first time—you have to give them you name and email and sometimes your address and phone number, and sometimes create a user name and password, and it still takes forever to actually get access.  So “Zona Wifi GRATIS para la Gente” (Free Wifi Zone for the People) isn’t secure. So what?  It’s not like I do online securities trading at the airport.

“I always find it amusing,” said Lynn, “when I land somewhere I haven’t been in years—like Bangkok—and I am immediately connected to a wireless signal because it remembers me.”

Responsible Travel had messaged several times to check we were on track and apologizing for the morning’s no-show driver.  In retrospect, knowing everything turned out okay, it doesn’t seem that stressful of an occurrence but it was at the time.

“He was clearly unhappy about something when he picked us up in Medellin,” I remarked to Lynn.

“Yes.  Do you think he feels they don’t pay him enough?  To not show up at all is grounds for dismissal, so it’d have to be some pretty serious issue.”

“Maybe he had a heart attack?”

“Or slipped on a banana peel …”

We shrugged and turned back to Facebook.  It was one of those mysteries that happen when you travel that you’ll never get an explanation for and it doesn’t matter, as long as ended well.

We exited the second flight in Santa Marta mid-afternoon, and I couldn’t help sighing happily out loud because it was hot and humid, even inside the airport. You could feel we were near the sea.

Our driver was there to take us on the 1.5-hour drive to Tayrona National Park.  He pulled over after a minutes and a second guy jumped into the truck.  “Mi amigo,” he explained.  Just going along for the ride, apparently. Santa Marta was not particularly scenic, at least along the highway.  It’s a beach holiday destination, so I’m sure it’s much prettier close to the beach.

I realized the driver was talking to me.  “I will keep your suitcases with me this weekend,” he said.  “You can’t take them into the park.”

I translated for Lynn and she looked chagrined.  Our itinerary said, “You can get a horse service for the luggage and for the people for approx. 6 EUR.”

Damn, another mystery.

Someday Soon I’m Gonna Tell the Moon

While the minutes ticked away as we waited for our driver, I talked to the hotel receptionist in Spanish.

“You liked Medellin?” she inquired, clearly proud of her city.

“Yes,” we loved it,” I replied.  “It’s nice that this hotel is so close to Park Lloras, because everyone knows where it is and that made it easy to get around.”

Actually, I probably said something like, “This hotel it nice close by Park Lloras, because all people are wise about it and it was much easy for to travel around this place.”

She gave me a blank look.

I had done it again—in addition to my crap Spanish, I had called it Park Lloras, which means Crying Park, instead of Park Lleras, its name.

“I meant Park Lleras,” I corrected myself. What a difference one little letter can make.  The evening before, Lynn and I had hailed a cab back to the park to meet Roxana and Ricardo.  I told the driver we were going to Park Lloras.

“To where?” the driver asked.  I repeated the wrong name several times, slower and with clearer enunciation.  How could this guy not know about Park Lloras!  He must have figured out what I meant because he laughed and turned the radio up to drown me out.  It took almost an hour in rush hour traffic, but he dropped us off in the park.  The park, as in a deserted wooded area a few blocks from all the bars.  It had grown dark and was pouring rain, but we got where we needed to go in the end despite my best efforts at speaking Spanish.

About an hour later it suddenly hit me what I had been saying; I told the group and they had a good laugh at my expense and we all started laughing about how there could have been a place called The Crying Park in that old movie The Crying Game.

Responsible Travel kept messaging me to say they were working to find our driver.  By now he was almost an hour late.  I told them we would call a taxi.  Then there was a knock at the front door of the hotel, which was kept locked, and there was a man with a van.

He was young and had braces; his hair was wet and his clothes were damp but impeccable.  The van was deluxe and appeared just-bought.  He wasn’t in any hurry until the receptionist explained the situation to him with much urgency and arm waving.  Apparently he hadn’t been briefed that we were running an hour behind.

And so he drove fast, and texted nonstop.  He had placed his phone on a dashboard holder, but still—we were going 50 or 60 mph on winding roads overlooking steep cliffs. Every few minutes he would jerk the steering wheel to keep us from drifting into the oncoming lane or the cliff edge.  Lynn and I, through a series of silent facial expressions meaning, “We’re going to die!” to “We have to get to the airport!”, agreed to let it pass.

Then he pulled over onto the side of the road.  Was this it?  Was this the real Medellin, still full of criminals and murders?  Was this where he robbed us and buried us in a shallow grave?

Instead, he spoke into his phone, then turned it around to face us in the back seat.  A canned-computer-generated voice translated, “You must pay 60,000 pesos for this ride.”  He beamed at us, proud of his app.

Just think.  On the positive side, you may never make a mistake speaking another language by using a translation app.  On the negative, you’ll never know the exhilaration of trying to master a language.  And you’ll never have the laughs from making mistakes.

I explained, more cautious to get my Spanish correct this time, “We already paid the tour company.”  He was off like a bullet again, this time yammering with the phone to his ear to confirm we had paid, swerving as he drove one handed.

This was the most memorable thing in the airport: screens over the sinks with ads and public health messages.  Ugh. Is there no escape!?

Horrid Little Men

We returned to the coffee shop we’d been to the previous day and people watched.

Lynn commented, not for the first time, that the Botero statue of the fat man with a little dick dressed as a gladiator reminded her of a certain president.  “Such a horrid little man,” she said.

This was the second time this day she had used the phrase “horrid little man.”  Over lunch we’d had a long conversation about the Me Too movement and our different experiences.

Lynn’s mum had made it clear to her three daughters that they should put up with no nonsense from anyone.  “Remember, you’re a Rutter!” her mother would admonish them.  Rutter is Lynn’s last name, no relation to the famous composer.

“We didn’t even know what that meant,” Lynn said, “But it had its effect.  When Jan and I were traveling around Europe …” (Jan is her older sister) “… when I was 17, we slept on a hillside in Italy with a bunch of other broke young people who were sleeping rough.

“I woke up in the middle of the night to find a bloke unzipping my sleeping bag.”

“Did you know him?  What did you do?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t know him! I yelled at him—‘Get away from me, you horrid little man!’  It just came out of my mouth.  I don’t think any bloke wants to be called ‘little.’”

“What did he do?”

“He scurried away.  I went back to sleep.  No one bothered me again.”

“And no one ever hit on you at work, ever?”

“I don’t think so,” Lynn replied thoughtfully.  “If they did, I didn’t realize it.”

“Well if you had had any of the experiences I’ve had, there would be no doubt about what was going on,” I replied drily.

I wrote a post last November detailing some of the incidents where men have stalked, groped, exposed themselves, or otherwise sexually harassed me, including at work.

I think, due to my early childhood experiences, I had a big V for “vulnerable” or “victim” stamped on my forehead until just a few years ago.  My mother never told me, “Don’t forget—you’re a Maertz!”  But then, she had been an abused woman herself.

As I write this, a month after this trip, Colombia is in the news because its peace process is in danger of falling apart.  The US is trying to extradite one of the FARC leaders to face cocaine trafficking charges.  The 2016 peace deal promised immunity to FARC leaders, all of whom were wanted in the US, if they quit the drug trade.  The US says that Seuxis Hernandez-Solarte (great name!) has continued in the coke biz. FARC claims the US and Colombia are in cahoots to frame him.

Sigh.  More fat men playing at gladiators. And why was the drug trade so lucrative?  What was the economic incentive?  It was the US demand for drugs. And rather than get people into drug treatment which would have dried up demand, we tried to arrest and incarcerate our way out of the problem.  My son is Exhibit A.  What a waste of lives, money, and time, in both countries.

We had a last supper with Roxana and Ricardo and Gaby at the same restaurant we’d enjoyed the previous night.

The next day we would fly to Santa Marta, on the northern coast.  We would have to make a connection in Bogota.  Someone would pick us up in Santa Marta and drive us to Tayrona National Park.  It became unclear from that point out, but somehow we would then spend an hour traveling on foot or by horse into this park.  It was going to be a long day.

The driver didn’t arrive at the agreed time, 7:30am.  He hadn’t showed by 7:45, so I What’s App’d Responsible Travel.  It was an hour-long drive to the Medellin airport, there was only one route, and we had seen miles of backed up traffic going in the other direction on our way in.  If we didn’t get to the airport it would set off a cascade of missed connections and we didn’t want to know where that would land us tonight.

Bottles, Botanics, and Boteros

I realized after my last post that I write a lot about drinking.  I, and many friends and family members, enjoy a happy hour drink and drinks during lunch when on vacation, but I am more and more aware these days of the effects of excessive drinking.

You can’t go into anywhere without seeing signs like these, which are marketed to women and sold as “art.”

They’re all over social media, too.

Now you know me—I’m not one to be cynical—but is there some plot afoot by the Wine Bottlers Association of America to get women to drink more?

According to “the experts,” one drink per day should be the limit for women.  That seems restrictive.  That’s on average, right?  So can I have two drinks per day three days in a row and then just one more the rest of the week?   Does it mean I’m an alcoholic that I am asking these questions?

Before saying our good nights in Park Lleras, we conferred on the plan for the next day.  Ricardo, Roxana, and Gaby were going shoe shopping at a mall.  Lynn and I exchanged a nano-glance and declined to join them.  But we would meet them the next evening for another meal.

I was fixated on visiting the Botanical Gardens.  In the depths of winter, I become obsessed with plants.  I buy plants at the grocery and make plans based on whether there’s a greenhouse nearby where I can buy plants.  I repot the plants that have barely lived through winter, spreading dirt and tools and rocks all over the kitchen floor. My bedroom is so full of plants that the windows fog up.  Still, I want more.

First we had to find the Metro Station again.  Lynn and I managed to walk to Park Lleras, then using my unfailing sense of direction, we struck out in what I thought was the path we’d followed with the guide the day before.

Of course we got lost, but we saw some great plant sights along the way.

I asked for directions, in Spanish, and actually understood the simple answer.  It’s times like these I am so grateful for the four years I studied Spanish.

In minutes the Metro had whisked us to the stop for the Botanical Gardens, where we appreciated yet more murals—these were on pillars under the train platform.

The gardens turned out to be a work in progress.

“It’s not exactly the Lost Gardens of Heligan, is it?” Lynn commented.

The much ballyhooed orchid house held only a few puny specimens, although the building itself was impressive and I’m sure it’ll wow in time.

There was one column full of enormous Stag Horn Ferns.

Of most interest were the yoga class and photo shoot for … a quinceanera?

We had read that these gardens were home to “more than 1,000 living species and 4,500 flowers.”  I thought flowers were living species?  Regardless, we highly doubted if there were anything near that many species, unless—which is entirely possible—we missed some huge swath of the park.

There was a bamboo forest.

I have this plant at home but it’s about 1/10 the size.

The ever-popular unfurling fern photo.

After half an hour we headed for the restaurant, which had plant-covered pillars.

It was a very good restaurant and we spent a couple hours there consuming yet more ceviche and fish main dishes and a bottle of wine.  The girl in the fancy dress and her family—the women attired in bedazzled dresses and the men in suits right out of The Godfather—were seated at the table next to ours.  It turned out the young woman was graduating from college.

We hopped back on the train and returned to the square with all the Boteros, which had a museum we hadn’t had time to visit the previous day.

We saw this sign from above.  Hatikvah means “hope” in Hebrew and is Israel’s national anthem.  I had seen several stores with Jewish names but when I asked Daniella if there was a Jewish community in Medellin it was as if she had no idea what Jews were.

There was a collection of (surprise!) Boteros inside, including this voluptuous sculpture.